Espace presseThema

Cities in Mutation and Old Docklands

Port area wastelands are a symbol of urban mutation. A series of comparative investigations into European urban redevelopment strategies in the face of globalisation have found two sharply differing responses: production of a standard new cityscape or city-specific revitalisation programs tied to local identity and activity.

Le Havre

© Photo Alain Baudry

Rising behind the dockside gantries of Le Havre, the Bridge of Normandy frames the port city activities of the estuary.

Following the dominant “waterfront” model established in the 1960's in the United States, European cities like London, Barcelona or Genoa have developed urban renewal strategies based on the transformation of abandoned industrial wastelands into recreational zones centered around museums, aquariums, or old ships. Dissociated from local economic activity, these urban projects feature a uniform, sepia-tinted view of maritime life, one in which ports become “waterfronts”.

In an opposite approach, some cities of Northern Europe have focused their efforts on an overall approach to local urban problems and specificities, taken as an ensemble. Anvers, Hamburg, or Rotterdam are examples of strategies of reinforcement of local urban characteristics. Linking modern non-material activities of the city with the commercial and material activities of the port is accomplished through closer ties between city and port. The culture and heritage of the port are in this approach considered as factors of production contributing to the city's overall position. Urban and economic considerations are taken together, in a state of ongoing creative tension but also as an affirmation of local identity and unity.

France has lagged behind in the redefinition of central urban wastelands. The era of the “urban project”, coming after the post-war-boom period of State urbanism, has done little to modify the functional logic of a separation of what is urban from what is economic. Urban production is not the subject of strategic visions, and cities remain cut off from their ports. Many French cities settle for a simple internal recomposition while elsewhere in Europe cities are adopting redevelopment plans that reflect the role they seek to play in a globalising context.



à lire

Thierry Baudouin, Michèle Collin & Claude Prelorenzo (eds), Urbanité des cités portuaires, L'Harmattan, Paris, 1997.


Michèle Collin
Researcher at the CNRS
Laboratoire "Théorie des mutations urbaines"

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